This is the third article in a series that explores the driving forces behind hallyu and the global rise of Korean pop culture. –Ed.
Dubbed Korea’s “ticket power king” for his ability to sell out performances at the snap of a finger, K-pop and musical icon Kim Jun-su (also known as Xia) is inarguably one of the original driving forces of hallyu.
Despite being entangled in a series of legal battles throughout his career, Kim has still managed to rise above all odds and establish himself as one of the leading figures in the Korean entertainment industry.
After training for six years under one of the most sought-after K-pop agencies, SM Entertainment, Kim made his debut in 2003 as a member of the soon-to-be explosive quintet boy band TVXQ.
The boys made their first public appearance on Dec. 26 that year during a joint BoA and Britney Spears showcase, where they performed their debut single “Hug.”
TVXQ’s first and second studio album “Tri-Angle” and “Rising Sun,” respectively, went on to become massive hits and the five began climbing the ladder of success. The group snagged two Golden Disk Awards for Album of the Year with its chart-topping albums “O” in 2006 and “Mirotic” in 2008 and amassed a substantial local and international following that made it one of the hottest K-pop acts.
However, just as the group was on cloud nine, fans would soon be shocked to hear that the members were not all smiles behind the scenes.
In 2009, Kim and fellow TVXQ members Kim Jae-joong and Park Yoo-chun filed a lawsuit against SM Entertainment, claiming that the company’s exclusive 13-year contracts were “unjust” to the artists and should be invalidated.
The Seoul Central District Court ruled in favor of the trio’s motion in 2010 and granted an injunction that suspended their contracts.
Little did Kim know that this injunction would later turn out to be a yet another “unjust” monster in disguise.
Several months after the court ruling, Kim along with his fellow members who sued, came together to form their new K-pop group JYJ with C-Jes Entertainment.
However, their attempt to jump-start their new career was abruptly halted after SM officials allegedly discouraged media outlets from hosting them on music and entertainment programs. JYJ found it impossible to promote themselves on many of the country’s top music stages and TV programs, which inevitably forced them to focus on other aspects of their careers.
For three years, the two sides continued their legal spats until November 2012. Korea saw a historic showbiz moment as the legal battles between JYJ and SM officially ended on Nov. 28. That day, both parties withdrew all lawsuits and came to a mutual understanding, filing written agreements not to interfere with each other’s future activities.
“We judged that we no longer need to provide management service to the three since they showed no intent to continue activities as members of TVXQ,” said representatives of SM in its official statement.
Although the lawsuit filed by the members of JYJ had strained their activities as a group, it largely helped pave the way for future contract negotiations between entertainers and their agencies.
It was reported that around 10 agencies in Korea not only changed the contract period for new talent to seven years, as opposed to the 13 years that members of TVXQ were bound to, but also revised or even eliminated contractual policies that were perceived as unfair.
“This is a significant case showing that large entertainment firms cannot abuse their power in signing artists,” said one entertainment personnel.
The Fair Trade Commission, Human Rights Commission and the Culture Ministry all agreed to provide more protective regulations for aspiring entertainers.
However, Kim and his fellow bandmates are still not out of the woods, as some have argued that even to this day, the legal agreements have done little in the way of allowing them to perform on television.
Early last year, Rep. Choi Min-hee of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy — since renamed The Minjoo Party of Korea — proposed a revision to the Broadcasting Act, toughening regulations against broadcasters’ unfair practices. Dubbed the “JYJ bill,” the revision enables the Korea Communications Commission to intervene when a broadcaster bans someone without reasonable cause. The bill was passed and took effect on Nov. 30.
Despite the legal actions aiming to lift restrictions so the members of JYJ are free to appear on television programs and participate in televised events, Kim‘s exclusion from last month’s 2016 Seoul Music Awards once again called to question the effectiveness of past legal actions to remedy matters.
Kim took to social media and revealed on his Twitter account that he had not been invited to the big-time music awards on Jan. 14 although the hallyu star had won the event‘s most popular artist of the year award in the past.
Coming as it did less than two months after the passage of the JYJ bill in the National Assembly, the controversy fueled the outrage of his fans.
“Kim’s fans have all the right to accuse the organizers for their unfair practices,“ Rep. Choi wrote on her Twitter. “We’re making efforts to get the facts straight on why he was not invited.”
Even Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon weighed in on the matter, tweeting last week that such incidents would not be repeated and that the “Seoul city government will halt its funding of the awards ceremony if the problem reemerges ever again.”
Despite being unable to fully take part in local media activities, Kim still went on to pursue a solo career.
In 2010, he released his debut single “Xiah” in Japan, which went on to reach the No. 2 spot on the Oricon singles chart. However, he soon hit another wall as discord between him and his Japanese label, Avex Trax — a copublisher of SM — forced him to temporarily suspend all activities in Japan.
Continuing to fight bureaucracy in order to be able to freely promote himself as an artist, Kim released his first full-length Korean solo album in 2012, titled “Tarantallegra.” The album reached No. 5 on the Billboard World Albums chart and No. 2 on the Gaon albums chart in Korea.
Along with his newfound solo K-pop success, Kim eventually found a home on the musical stage.
While Broadway is certainly no stranger to shows led by big-time Hollywood talents, the trend of Korean musicals casting K-pop stars has gotten to the point where it’s now almost a routine practice.
Kim found himself at the forefront of this trend when he made his musical debut in 2010 as the titular Wolfgang character in “Mozart!” to much critical acclaim. He had turned himself into a musical force to be reckoned. Since then, Kim’s much heralded performance — coupled with his ability to sell-out musical venues — has led to an influx of K-pop idol stars attempting to mimic his success. However, in the eyes of many critics, most have failed.
“Musical productions are continuously going on these star hunts because they think they need big names to promote their show,” says music critic Im Jin-mo.
“But as we all know, singing these sort of ‘hook’ K-pop songs and singing in a live musical are two very different things,” he added.
Contrary to his strong feeling that idol stars do not belong on the musical stage, Im, however, is firm in his conviction that Kim is the only one who has met the high standards of musical critics.
“I think of Xia Junsu as the exception,” he said.
Since his musical debut, Kim has taken on the roles of Jun-hyung in the “Tears of Heaven,” Tod (death) in “Elisabeth,” which landed him his Best Actor award at the 18th Korean Musical Awards, Ji-wook in “December” and L. Lawliet in “Death Note.“
The artist also recently reprised his coveted role as Count Dracula in the “Dracula” musical, which is currently running until Feb. 9.
Telling the tale of unrequited love from the world’s best-known vampire character, Count Dracula, Kim has transformed himself into a bloodthirsty creature madly in love with one woman for centuries.
“In general when people picture Dracula, they imagine something horrifyingly scary,” said Kim during a press conference held for the musical last week.
“And although this image is accurate in many ways, for our production, we looked to transform Dracula into a softer character, one where people are able to see the love in his heart. For 400 years, he has been in love with one woman. That loneliness and the pain he feels for love is the most beautiful aspect of this story.”
Not surprisingly, Kim’s most recent performance in “Dracula” has once again been met with high praise and hailed by members of the media and critics alike as a role he was born to play.
“Kim Jun-su as Dracula has reached new heights,” wrote one local media outlet. “There is no doubt that Kim Jun-su’s ‘star power’ has been confirmed.”
By Julie Jackson (email@example.com)